Sunday, July 13, 2014

And Then There Were None (1945) Ten...Nine...Eight...

Produced by brothers Leo C. Popkin and Harry H. Popkin, The Popkin Brothers  (Impact; D.O.A.; The Well) produced the film adaptation of Dame Agatha Christie’s 1945 film version of her thriller And Then There Were None, with great success.   And Then There Were None was produced by 20th Century-Fox and directed by the great Rene Clair, and based on Agatha Christie’s best-selling suspense novel, blending chilling suspense and wry humor.  However, Mrs. Christie’s original British version of the novel was originally titled Ten Little Niggers, which didn’t go over well with us Yanks!

Just as well, as screenwriter Dudley Nichols (Stagecoach; Scarlet Street) did a swell job of of adapting Mrs. Christie’s worldwide smash, adding more wickedly witty bits of wry dark humor!

Thank goodness we’re about to dock!
I've still got the willies from that ordeal with the U-Boat
and Connie Porter!
 As the film begins, the all-star cast slowly thaws the ice as the characters arrive in a boat, most of them being English.

The characters don't talk much, at least at first; they just smile and nod politely, no small feat when many of them are trying not to toss their cookies after that boat ride!  The crashing waves over the opening credits work perfectly; I was tempted to get my snorkel! Let’s meet our travelers, shall we?

  • Barry Fitzgerald  from Mark Hellinger’s The Naked City; The Quiet Man) as Judge Quincannon.
  • Walter Huston (Oscar-winner for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre; Dodsworth; The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, as Dr. Edward G. Armstrong). (Mind you, this was before his son John Huston became a writer and director!)
  • Mischa Auer (You Can’t Take it With You; My Man Godfrey) as Prince Nikki Starloff.
  • June Duprez (The Thief of Bagdad; None But the Lonely Heart) as Vera Claythorne.
  • Louis Hayward (Ladies in Retirement; The Man in the Iron Mask)  as Phillip Lombard.
  • Roland Young   (Topper; The Philadelphia Story) as Detective Blore.
  • Judith Anderson from Laura; Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca, as Emily Brent.
  • Sir C.Aubrey Smith  (Tarzan the Ape Man; Rebecca) as General Mandrake.
And of course, the guests have to eat, don’t they?  That’s where the servants, Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, come in:  Mr. Rogers is played by Richard Haydn from Ball of Fire; The Sound of Music; Disney’s Alice in Wonderland.  Mrs. Rogers is played by  Queenie Leonard (from the original animated Disney version of 101 Dalmations, as well as  the film noir The Narrow Margin; Queenie sure had range!  Of course, we also fell in love with Haydn’s comedic voice for various Looney Tunes, especially Team Bartilucci’s favorite, Super-Rabbit (1943)!     

Mischa Auer's Prince Nikki chokes to death on
a small piece of scenery. 
Nikki’s macabre ditty seems about down to the final verse of the “last little Indian" as per the 10 Little Indian rhyme-- but in fact, it’s only the beginning when a male voice accuses them all of various killings!  The deaths involve elderly General Mandrake, who was accused of murdering his rival for the woman he loved, and now seems to have Alzheimer's; Emily Brent’s teenage nephew was put in jail because his heartless Auntie Emily thought he had it coming, resulting in the desperate young man hanging  himself in prison; Nikki’s hit-and-run killed a young couple;  Dr. Armstrong is accused of drunkenness that killed one Mary Cleves; Judge Quincannon is accused of being a “hanging judge” for his own selfish motives; Blore had been hired to watch the guests, though he's not exactly James Bond; Vera is accused of killing her own sister’s fiancee -- jeepers, now that’s sibling rivalry!  What’s more, how can we be sure at least some of the accused might be getting a raw deal?  Curiouser and curiouser!

A dune to a kill!
Will there be a body count in the guests’ futures, if not lawsuits?  Where’s when you really need it? Rogers does what he can as the weekend slowly unravels in terror, what with the guests slowly but surely coming unglued, especially with the body count climbing as each guest is murdered by each new macabre killing, including poor Mrs. Rogers becoming one of the early casualties, supposedly from heart failure. The body count climbs as General Mandrake pushes up daisies; an accidental overdose of his medicine, or something more sinister?  Time to face facts:  the killer is one of the guests!

Janet! Dr. Scott! Janet! Brad! Rocky!
Emily Brent is the most cold-hearted, if you ask me, not giving a rat’s rectum about her young nephew killing himself; all she cares about is where her next jar of marmalade is coming from!   I think it’s safe to say this inn won’t be giving out any five-star ratings anytime soon from, even if the guests do even live that long!  Suspense blends with deft wit.  I especially enjoyed Richard Haydn and his delightful daffy delivery.  Even when the body count rises, there’s plenty of comedy along with the dread and suspense.

Who will survive?  Watch And Then There Were None  on July 21 -- and the 1965 version, too, coming ever so soon!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

One, Two, Three (1961) - "Setzen machen!"

This blog post is hosted by the Billy Wilder Blogathon, hosted by the talented IrishJayhawk66 of Outspoken & Freckled and
Aurora of
@CitizenScreen of Once Upon a Screen.
(By the way, ladies, we love your description of you two smart and lovely ladies describing your fabulous Blogathon: 
“We’re girls gone Wilder!”)

Meet our protagonist, C.R. MacNamara, as played by James Cagney:
“On Sunday, August 1st, 1961, the eyes of America were on the nation’s capital, where Roger Maris was hitting home runs 44 and 45 against the Senators. On that same day, without any warning, the East German Communists sealed the border between East and West Berlin.  I only mention this to show the kind of people we’re dealing with: real shifty!”
"A gift from my employees on the tenth
anniversary of the Berlin Airlift."
Writer/Director/Producer Billy Wilder has long been among my favorite filmmakers because he’s equally deft with both comedies (Ball of Fire; The Apartment; The Fortune Cookie; and drama (Double Indemnity; Stalag 17;Ace in the Hole), and he’s always gleefully unapologetic about ruffling feathers— even if they’re audiences!  I especially got a kick out of the film’s sprinkling of its playful references to our star James Cagney, even including co-star Red Buttons doing a swell imitation of the man himself.

In Cameron Crowe’s book Conversations with Wilder (Alfred A. Knopf),
it’s been said that Wilder and his co-writer I.A.L Diamond claimed that One, Two, Three wasn't so much funny as it was fast: “We did just did it, nine pages at a time, and he never fumbled.”  Apparently another Cagney bio claims that wasn't completely true, but I say the nit-pickers need to lighten up!  Our family fell in love with One, Two, Three and its hilarious pace breakneck pace!

The rollicking cast includes:
  • James Cagney; Oscar-winner for Yankee Doodle Dandy, as well as great performances in White Heat; *Love Me or Leave Me*
  • Howard St. John, who you may also remember from Mister 880, and his memorable dramatic turn as Captain Turley in Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train.
  • Pamela Tiffin (Harper; The Pleasure Seekers)
  • Horst Buchholz (The Magnificent Seven; Nine Hours to Rama)
  • Arlene Francis, actress and TV personality (The Thrill of it All)
  • Lilo Pulver (A Time to Love and a Time to Die; a Global Affair)

C.R. MacNamara was tasked with getting  "German business-
men to have Coke with their knockwurst"
One, Two, Three takes place in Berlin, in what was then present-day 1951.  That’s where C.R. MacNamara (Cagney), nicknamed “Mac,” is Coca-Cola’s head of bottling in Germany.  Mac’s hopes and dreams of getting back in the good graces of his boss Mr. Hazeltine (St. John) is on the line.  You see, Mac has still been smarting over the unfortunate Benny Goodman incident, in which a sandstorm cancelled Goodman’s concert, resulting in irate music-lovers burning down the American Embassy, leaving poor frustrated Mac in the doghouse! But it's redemption time for Mac as he open negotiations to bring Coca-Cola behind the Iron Curtain.  But Hazeltine informs Mac he's wasting his time -- Coke has no interest in giving the Reds the Pause That Refreshes (This was actually the case -- however, Pepsi had no such qualms, which is how they became the cola of choice - the ONLY choice -- in Russia).  Instead, Mr. Hazeltine is sending his teenage daughter, Scarlett Hazeltine (Tiffin) to hop a plane to Germany in hopes busting-up Scarlett’s newest teenage sweetie, thus throwing the family’s vacation plans going hither and tither!  But that’s only the beginning of this daffy farce.

Meet Scarlett Hazeltine (Pamela Tiffin), hot-blooded teenage world-traveler.  If Scarlett was up for an award, she’d be a shoo-in for “Girl Most Likely to Give Mac’s Family High Blood Pressure!”
Almost as soon as she arrives, it turns out she's been seeing the sights after the MacNamaras hit the hay, bribing the family chauffeur to sneak over to the Russian sector! Worse yet, she's married a scruffy-headed Party-member named Otto Ludwig Piffl (Buchholz)! Who needs Tiffany's for an engagement ring, when you can have rings "forged from the steel of a brave cannon that fought at Stalingrad"?  Phyllis MacNamara (Arlene Francis), hearing from Mac about Scarlett’s new Communist husband, says “She married a Communist?  This is gonna be the biggest thing to hit Atlanta since General Sherman threw that little barbecue!”

Poor Otto, he doesn't know that all his troubles are behind him.
No worries, Mac has a plan.  Our na├»ve Otto is so busy thinking of love and rhetoric that he doesn't realize he's being framed!  Mac plants a balloon on the tailpipe of Piffl's motorbike, reading "Russki Go Home", and gives him a wedding present -- a cuckoo clock with a little Uncle Sam that plays "Yankee Doodle" -- wrapped in the Wall Street Journal, yet!  As Otto makes his way across the Brandenburg Gate, the East German guards stop him for the balloon, the Yankee Doodle time bomb goes off, and Otto is arrested and placed in "Enhanced Interrogation" for being a spy!

Waterboarding, eat your heart out!
Mac thinks all's well with the world...until it turns out that Otto and Scarlett have had time to consummate their wedded bliss -- she's "Schwanger", as they say in German.  So now Mac has to make his way into the Eastern sector, liberate Piffl, and turn him into a good little Capitalist, all before the Hazeltines arrive on the Yankee (you should pardon the expression) Clipper in under 24 hours!  Easy, right?  As Mac puts it, "I wish I was in Hell with my back broken!"

True, some of the more topical gags may seem dated today, but with Wilder and his co-writer I.A. L. Diamond (based on a play by Ferenc Molnar) , the smart snappy cast, and the breakneck pace, there wasn't a single scene that didn't leave me laughing out loud!   Can this howling hilarious satire save the day and the Free World?  Would Billy Wilder  let you down?  Watch and laugh!

“How would you like a little fruit for desert?”
(Cagney kids his Public Enemy grapefruit gag while arguing with Buchholz and Pamela Tiffin. 
Vinnie returns the empties as he has his say:

As The Wife mentions, the topical jokes in this film may require some explanation, but much like the jokes in any Warner Brothers cartoon, once they're explained, a whole new level of irreverence stands revealed.  The obvious physical gags like the Russian trade ministers all resembling various Russian leaders (including Leon Askin, best known to TV mavens as General Burkhalter from Hogan's Heroes) are easy to spot -- the minister taking his shoe off and banging it against the table to the rousing music and dancing of Lilo Pulver might miss a few heads as it sails over.
Otto: We will take over West Berlin. We will take over Western Europe.
We will bury you!

C.R. MacNamara: Do me a favor. Bury us, but don't marry us.

Topical jokes like this are missed by modern audiences, but cut deep at the issues of the day.
  The ministers' joke about "sending Cuba rockets" would come true the next year, as the center of the Cuban Missle Crisis.  And in what might be the most obscure in joke of them all, when Cagney tells Otto he must give the couple a wedding present, Scarlett claims that Otto's friends did not give them any gifts but instead sent the money to unemployed cotton pickers of Mississippi. Cagney was accused of being a communist sympathizer for sending money to striking cotton workers in the 1930's.

The climax of the film, as Mac and his cohorts must pull a Piffl pecuniary Pygmalion, is a masterpiece of comedic timing.  The chiming of the Uncle Sam clock gets imperceptibly faster each time it goes off, subtly underlining the increasingly frenetic pace as merchants and tradesmen teem through the Coca-Cola offices to add some white and blue to the little Red.  As legend has it, Cagney was having trouble with the machine-gun monologues as he rattles off orders to his underlings, so much so that he began to suspect he was, perhaps, not quite over the hill, but able to see the precipice without binoculars.  He walked to a corner of the soundstage, gave himself a quiet pep-talk, came back and nailed the speech in one more take.  The stress of the film caught up with him - this was his last film before his return in Ragtime.

Hard to believe Lilo Pulver was usually cast as a tomboy, ain't it?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Arabesque: Burnoose Notice

This post has been revised and republished as part of the Snoopathon: A Blogathon of Spies, hosted by Fritzi Kramer!  The Blogathon will run from June 1st through June 3rd, 2014. (Quick, what’s the password?)

The ever-versatile choreographer-turned-director Stanley Donen began his entertainment career with tuneful, urbane, inventive musicals including hits like On the Town (1949); Singin’ in the Rain (1952); Seven Brides for Seven Brothers  (1954); Funny Face (1957).  Like 1963’s comedy-thriller Charade (Fun Fact: that’s the year I was born!), Arabesque is another fabulous Universal romantic thriller in the grand stylish comedy-thriller tradition, including some of the same personnel!

After Stanley Donen’s Hitchcockian romantic comedy-thriller Charade (1963) became a smash hit, Donen had a decision to make:

  1. Should he play it safe and make another film just like Charade? Keep in mind that this was in the days before filmmakers sequel’ed hit films to death, often lazily giving them titles like, say,  Hit Movie Part 2. 
  2.  Should Our Man Stan go boldly go where he hadn’t gone before in his film career?

Well, Donen finally opted for a little of both with Arabesque (1966), and why not?  Don’t we all deserve more of the finer things in life, including entertaining suspense movies?  But I digress!  Arabesque has just about everything a moviegoer could want in a fun escapist comedy-thriller: spine-tingling suspense; international intrigue; sexy romance between Oscar-winning movie stars, albeit not both for Arabesque; you see, star Gregory Peck won his Best Actor Oscar for To Kill A Mockingbird, (1962), while Sophia Loren won her Best Actress Oscar for the searing Italian drama Two Women (1960).
Loren and Peck make a wonderful match with their delightful onscreen chemistry, accompanied by the great Henry Mancini (Charade; Hatari; Breakfast at Tiffany’s;Two for the Road).

I love screenwriter Peter Stone (Charade; Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe and collaborators, including Peter Stone) smart and snappy dialogue brimming with memorable lines; eye-catching English locations; jazzy Henry Mancini music infused with such exotic Middle Eastern touches as zithers and mandolas; inventive visuals with a pop art vibe; and the beguiling Sophia Loren in glam shoes, courtesy of foot-fetishist sugar daddy Alan Badel (The Day of the Jackal), and Christian Dior clothes! What’s not to love?

The eyes have it, and Prof. Ragheed's gonna get it!
 If Charade was Alfred Hitchcock Lite, then Arabesque is Hitchcock Lite after taking a few classes in James Bond 101, including an opening title sequence by Maurice Binder, who also did the honors for Charade and most of the James Bond movies. Gregory Peck plays David Pollack, a hieroglyphics expert Yank professor at Oxford who finds himself embroiled in Middle Eastern intrigue while decoding the cipher (which also happens to be the title of the Gordon Cotler novel which inspired the film, adapted by Julian Mitchell, Stanley Price and Pierre Marton. More about Marton in a moment) which serves as Arabesque’s MacGuffin.

 Our hero finds himself up against four Arabs who want to know what’s on the hieroglyphic-like cipher:

  • Prime Minister Jena (pronounced “Yay-na” and played by Carl Duering of A Clockwork Orange), who’s in England on a hush-hush mission; 
  • Nejim Beshraavi (Badel), the suave-bordering-on-unctuous shipping magnate whose ships may be laid up for good if Jena signs a treaty promising to use English and American tankers; 
  • Yussef Kasim (Kieron Moore of Crack in the World fame, among others), whose penchant for then-hip lingo a la Edd “Kookie” Byrnes on 77 Sunset Strip belies his ruthlessness; and...
  • In any language, nobody can resist Yasmin!
  • Beshraavi’s beautiful, unpredictable lover Yasmin Azir, played by the dazzling, hazel-eyed Loren. She’s sharp, witty, and alluring as all get out in her fabulous Dior wardrobe, including a beaded golden burnoose, plus Sophia rides horses convincingly! 

John Merivale of The List of Adrian Messenger fame is memorable as Sloane, Beshraavi’s put-upon henchman, who gets a memorably tense opening scene in a doctor’s office, and is treated as a combination lackey and punching bag for the rest of the film. I almost—only almost—felt sorry for the guy. Anyway, some of David’s new associates have no qualms about stooping to murder, and soon the chase is on, with suspenseful scenes at the Hyde Park Zoo and Ascot. Our man David is subjected to truth serum and knockouts, and I’m not just talking about Loren: “Every time I listen to you, someone either hits me over the head or tries to vaccinate me.” Poor David doesn’t know where to turn, especially since he can never be sure whether or not he can trust the mercurial Yasmin.

Kieron Moore attempts to kill Peck and Loren with a construction site.

Kieron Moore reads the Arabesque script:
"I talk like Kookie 
and get knocked off how?!"
The usual ever-so-slightly wooden note in Gregory Peck’s delivery is oddly effective as he tries to loosen up and deliver witticisms in the breezy style of Cary Grant, Donen’s business partner and original choice to play David Pollack. Word has it that Grant and Loren had a steamy real-life romance while filming Houseboat, and things got complicated on account of Loren still being married to producer Carlo Ponti. In any case, it helps that those witticisms were written by none other than Charade alumnus Peter Stone under the nom de plume “Pierre Marton,” and Stanley Price as well as Julian Mitchell. Peck may not be Mr. Glib, but he’s so inherently likable (he won his Oscar for playing Atticus Finch, after all! (Ask my husband Vinnie to do his Gregory-Peck-Impersonating-Cary-Grant impersonation sometime; it’s delightful!).

If the shoe fits, Beshraavi will have Yasmin wear it!
 Peck seems so delighted to get an opportunity to deliver bon mots after all his serious roles that he’s downright endearing, like a child trying out new words for the first time.  Besides, the bewitching Loren can make any guy look suave and sexy!  Co-star Alan Badel (The Day of the Jackal) looks like a swarthy, polished version of Peter Sellers wearing cool shades; he virtually steals his scenes as the suave-bordering-on-unctuous villain with a foot fetish. Shoe lovers will swoon over the scene with Badel outfitting Loren with a roomful of fancy footwear and a comically/suggestively long shoehorn. Speaking of things of beauty, Director of Photography  Christopher Challis (The Red Shoes; Sink the Bismarck) is utterly dazzling and inventive; no wonder he won  a BAFTA award (the British equivalent of the Oscars), and Christian Dior got a BAFTA nomination for Loren’s elegant costumes!

Giddy-up, giddy-up, let's go! Let's vanquish a foe!
The only thing that disappoints me about Arabesque is that director/producer Donen didn’t seem to like this sparkling, twist-filled adventure as much as our family and so many other movie lovers do. Specifically, he felt the script needed work. In Stephen M. Silverman’s book about Donen’s films, Dancing on the Ceiling, Donen is quoted as saying about Arabesque, “We have to make it so interesting visually that no one will think about it.” Boy, did they ever! In an article about Arabesque on the TCM Web site, Stone had said that Donen “shot it better than he ever shot any picture. Everything was shot as though it were a reflection in a Rolls-Royce headlamp.” I don’t think Donen gave himself or the movie enough credit, though. If you ask me, Arabesque is a perfect example of one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best-known quotes: “Some films are slices of life; mine are slices of cake.” Now that Arabesque is finally available on DVD (my own copy is part of Universal’s Gregory Peck Film Collection, a seven-disc DVD set that Vin bought me for Christmas 2011), I wish someone would get Donen and Loren together to do the kind of entertaining, informative commentary Donen did with the late Stone for Criterion’s special-edition Charade DVD, while they’re both still alive and well enough to swap stories, or perhaps even put out a whole new deluxe edition of the film!
Our heroes saddle up for action! Nice horsies!
At Ascot, that's the ticket - to frame our man David Pollock for murder!

Reflections in two sexy spies! (Great F/X work!)
Odd, I don’t usually get hieroglyphics in my fortune cookies!
Double-cross Beshraavi, and you’re in for a date with the falcon—
and we don’t mean George Sanders!
Now that's what I call breakfast in bed!

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956): Que Sera Scare-a!

This blog post is hosted by the Fabulous Films of the 1950s Blogathon, hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association (CMBA), running from May 22 through May 26, 2014.  We hope you’ll enjoy this blast from the past!

Today’s parents are often accused  of “Helicopter Parenting,” but after the harrowing adventure the McKenna Family endures in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, who can blame them for being a heck of a lot clingier than usual?

As TCM’s Brian Cady notes, the original 1934 smash hit got Hitchcock started on a nearly unbroken string of wildly popular suspense thrillers that made him “The Master of Suspense.”

Hitchcock's films were well known for their cymbalism...
But Hitchcock had never been the type to rest on his laurels.  Sure, the original Man Who Knew Too Much (let’s just call it “Man,” we’re all pals here!) was already a classic, but Hitchcock felt his original masterpiece would be even better with Paramount’s glorious VistaVision and the other new technologies available at the time, making the 1956 version even better.

Friday, May 2, 2014

There’s Always a Woman: Blondell Ambition

The First Romantic Comedy Blogathon is hosted by Backlots and Carole & Co. from May 1st through May 4th, 2014.  Thanks for letting us play in your

I’ve always enjoyed screwball comedies that blend romance and comedy, and the zanier, the better, especially when there’s mystery in the mix!  Case in point:  Columbia Pictures’comedy-mystery There’s Always A Woman (1938).  All the filmmakers had to say to make me love this movie were three names
  1. Joan Blondell (Nightmare Alley; Three on a Match 
  2. Two-time Oscar-winner Melvyn Douglas (Hud; Being There; Ninotchka).
    (Fun Fact: Douglas was also the grandfather of actress Illeana Douglas (Dummy; Martin Scorsese’s remake of Cape Fear.  
  3. Mary Astor, Best Supporting Actress Oscar-winner for The Great Lie; The Palm Beach Story).
Based on a story from American Magazine and directed by Alexander Hall (My Sister Eileen; The Great Lover) and produced by William Perlberg (Miracle on 34th Street; The Song of Bernadette), There’s Always a Woman  is kind of like the wiseacre kid brother who’s really swell beneath it all. The cast includes Frances Drake of Mad Love; Thurston Hall (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Lady on a Train). 

Sally helps Bill to root, root, root for the home team!
Wow! Two Reardons for the price of one! 
What a scoop! Eat your heart out, Miss Marple!
Lola Fraser wears widows' weeds well!
Big owie!  That's what you get for hogging Sally's credit, Bill, you bad boy!
Bill and Sally get soused soused while looking
for clues at the Skyline Club!
Sally: "Why didn't you pick me up?" 
Bill:  "I did it before, and look what happened."

What does detective Bill Reardon have that
William Powell doesn't have, besides Myrna Loy?
Clients, that's what!
"I see it all now!  You and the upstairs maid.  Do the old boy in, you said.
Elderberry wine and old lace, you said!  Then, the clean getaway,
but you weren't smart enough, John, alias Johnny, alias Jack, alias Jackie!"
New York City private detective Bill Reardon (Douglas) went into business for himself, but  perhaps more successful detectives like The Thin Man's Nick Charles spoiled the broth in the Big Apple for Bill’s agency, no doubt snapping up the pricey clients that were just out of Bill’s reach.  Luckily, Bill’s former boss, the D.A. himself (Hall) is glad to have Bill back.  But Sally (Blondell), Bill’s wife and assistant, thinks she could cook up a clientele, being as loving as she is sassy and determined; what a gal!  Before Sally can start closing up shop for good, in comes Lola Fraser (Astor), a rich society matron who wants to find out if Lola’s husband is stepping out with lovely young Anne Calhoun (Frances Drake from Mad Love; It’s A Wonderful World).  Sally puts The Reardon Detective Agency under new management!  Then Lola’s hubby get bumped off, and suspects galore pop up, like shifty nightclub owner/gambler Nick Shane (Jerome Cowan from The Maltese Falcon; Miracle on 34th Street; quite a few familiar faces here!).

Joan Blondell's third degree didn't go as well
as the police would have hoped...

TCM’s  Lorraine LoBianco reports There’s Always a Woman set was a family affair, with ex-sister-in-law Connie, who’d just divorced Blondell’s brother, and then her sister Gloria  Blondell a contract!  No wonder Joan was happy to be at Columbia, except for just one little thing:  for some reason, Warner Bros. (where she’d worked at the time) didn’t want Blondell to wear her hair in her signature curly ringlets hair.  Luckily, director Alexander Hall gallantly made sure he had brunettes and redheads among the actors so that Blondell would attract all eyes.

Fun Facts:

There’s Always A Woman also had a 1939 sequel with Douglas, There’s That Woman Again.  This time, Virginia Bruce played Sally Reardon..

Also, don’t  blink or you’ll miss:
A young Rita Hayworth in a brief role as a secretary!
Whitey of the Dead End Kids, a.k.a. The Bowery Boys!     

Sally knows a detective must keep track of their partners
I bet they need more toilet paper, too!

*KLONG!* Big owie! That'll teach Bill to hog all of Sally's credit!

Those kooky lovebirds solve the case, though they'll need hairbrushes afterward!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960): They’ll Need A Crane

This post is hosted by the Great Villain Blogathon, hosted by Ruth of Silver Screenings; Karen of Shadows and Satin; and Kristina of Speakeasy, from April 20th through April 26th, 2014.  It’s wicked fun!

Poor frustrated Marion Crane (Janet Leigh of Touch of Evil; The Manchurian Candidate) is not a happy camper.  She doesn’t ask for much, just love and happiness with her hunky California sweetie Sam Loomis (John Gavin of Midnight Lace; Spartacus).

Jeepers, it's 15 days before Christmas already!
Those crazy kids Marion and Sam may not have money and time,
but they'll always have Phoenix!  Here's looking at you, kids!
Caroline (Patricia Hitchcock) called to see if Teddy called! She can flirt with us anytime!

Marion is so new to crime; I hope she remembers
which is Bad-Girl Black or Good-Girl White!
Don't spend all that $40,000 in one place!

Much as they love each other, Marion and Sam are both frustrated because Sam’s still slaving away for his ex-wife’s alimony, as Sam says, “I’m tired of sweating for people who aren’t there.  I sweat to pay off my father’s debts, and he’s in his grave.  I sweat to pay my ex-wife alimony and she’s living on the other side of the world somewhere.”  Marion’s dullsville job in a Phoenix real estate company doesn’t inspire her much either, unless you count the hot sex in cheap hotels while she and Sam have steamy sex during their lunch hours.  (Somehow, that doesn’t sound that bad!)  Much as Marion loves Sam and vice-versa, she longs to have a bright future of her own with Sam, with money, romance, and happily-ever-afters, maybe even a big tuneful finale, like that other Marion:  Marian the Librarian from The Music Man! (Hey, if you’re gonna dream, dream big!)  “I’ll lick the stamps,” Marion vows to her sweetie.  Then fate steps in for Marion when Mr. Lowery, Marion’s boss (Vaughn Taylor of The Power; In Cold Blood) comes in with $40,000 from one of their customers, oil lease man Tom Cassidy (Frank Albertson from Fury; Wake Island).  But like Sam, Marion is also tired of toiling for people who aren’t there, so when Mr. Lowery asks Marion to bank Cassidy’s dough over the weekend, Marion loses her mind, er, I mean, makes a bold, sudden move, and scrams with the $40,000.  It’s all in the name of love, right?  Yeah, Marion, keep thinking that way while you make your getaway, getting more paranoid at every turn while cops give you the Hairy Eyeball, fumferring all the way!  Then again, hon, it’s not too late to come to your senses and lick those stamps with Sam…

Hi, Mr. Lowery, it's just little old me, Marion, off to pick up those headache pills! Gotta run!
Marion made it through the rain! Now for Marion's Dinner with Norman!
Trusty umbrella service, homemade sandwiches, fresh milk; a pretty girl, taxidermyl
What's The Bates Motel got that Courtyard By Marriott doesn't

He sees you when you're peeping!

At last, Marion finds shelter at The Bates Motel. It’s clearly had better days since the main road was washed up, but it you love stuffed birds, you’ll love it!  Just steer clear of that nice young man’s mother, Mrs. Bates.  Word has it that young Norman (played by Anthony Perkins from Friendly Persuasion; Murder on The Orient Express; Pretty Poison ) is rather henpecked.  But maybe we should give the old gal a little slack; after all, Mother isn’t quite herself these days, especially when pretty young strangers drop by….

Stephen Rebello’s Psycho commentary track mentions that some first-time viewers felt that Marion comes across as stupid!  However, I agree with Rebello that we must keep in mind that Marion is an amateur, not at all a practiced thief; indeed, she seems to be in some kind of fugue state, confused  and troubled.  As long as Marion has our sympathy, I say give the girl a break while they still can!  Psycho wasn’t named on AFI’s 100 Thrills List for nothing!
Aren't Hitchcock's cameos fun?
Bernard Herrmann’s compelling score (North by Northwest; the Oscar-winner The Devil and Daniel Webster, a.k.a. All That Money Can Buy; North By Northwest) grabs you from the driving theme to those shrieking violins!  Psycho was written for strings only.  Herrmann called it “his black-and-white music.”  Fun Fact: In Orson Welles’ 1958 thriller Touch of Evil, young Dennis Weaver (Duel; TV’s McCloud) played a nervous, twitchy motel manager!

(When in doubt, the answer is "C")

Vinnie whips off his wig and discusses The Shower Scene

It's possibly the most iconic scene in film, certainly in horror/suspense.  It is perfection.  Two and a half minutes of masterfully crafted shock.  Rife with not even implied violence and nudity, but crafted so that you will infer violence and nudity.  The knife is never seen entering flesh, indeed there are only two moments where the knife is even seen near Marion.   And there's no blood - it's chocolate sauce, as everyone now knows - but it's only seen dripping into the bathwater and down the drain, but we imagine it all over poor Ms. Crane.  But it's shot so fast, and so well, that persistence of vision makes you see them together almost constantly.

The Shower Scene is SO iconic, it's been parodied
in the most amazing of places, from Mel Brooks'
High Anxiety to this episode of Tiny Toon Adventures.

Taken out of context and watched on its own, it's still compelling. So much so that film makers have tried to match it in endless kill scenes in Friday the 13th and endless other horror films.  But to truly understand the impact of the scene, you have to see it in the context of the film.

First off, the scene breaks one of Hitch's rules - if you TELL the audience what's coming, the dread and suspense they feel will make for a far longer and more harrowing experience.  But the scene comes straight outta nowhere; indeed, at this point in the film, you expect to see Marion get back in her car and go back to face the music and AAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!

Take this one step further - as far as people knew, Janet Leigh was the star of the film.  For her to be removed from the board had never been done before. It left the movie-goers rudderless at sea - they had no idea what was going to happen, where the story was going to go.  It was that sense of being utterly out of their comfort zone that gave the moment its true shock. When Norman comes in and begins to clean up, the audience naturally assumes that he's the new hero of the film, exactly as they were supposed to.

And as if that's not good enough, they do the exact same shock turn again - just as you start to place emotion into Arbogast, even if you think he's the BAD guy in the movie, who's going to make life merry hell for Poor Norman and his wacky mother, in come the violins and the screaming.   There's only two on-screen kills in the film, and they both come out of left field of a stadium in another state.

The film is filled with left turns where you think yo know what it's about, and suddenly it isn't.  You assume Marion's the main character, wrong.  You assume the money is the McGuffin - wrong, it gets tossed into the trunk of the car and is never mentioned again.  You think Norman is the new hero, and...well...